Roaming Rome Alone
Originally posted on May 10th 2017 on my Tumblr.
Spring is here in Casablanca! Have I already been here nine months? It seems impossible. Let’s see if I can catch up on some recent adventures…
On April 1st, I set off for my first new country of 2017: Italia! I took a Saturday afternoon flight from Casablanca to Rome. As usual, I marveled at just how international the English language is. At my departure, Arabic, French, and English were available, and when we touched down in Fiumicino, Arabic and French were replaced by Italian. English, however, remained.
Customs and the airport train were pretty straightforward, but it was still almost 10pm by the time I arrived at my hostel in Rome, a block away from the central Termini Station. The reception desk was manned by a cheerful British girl who gave me a key to my dormitory. It was a very basic hostel, but it was clean enough and my roommates were quiet and respectful, so I have no complaints.
Sunday morning was dark and dreary, but I set out for some exploring. It was before 9am and as I wandered quietly along the scenic streets lined with compact cars, I felt like I had the city to myself. Eventually I began to see people dressed in athletic attire and bright blue t-shirts. It was the morning of the Roma Marathon and 5K race. The competitors and their supporters were dispersing from the finish area, hastened by the impending storm. I stopped in my tracks when I emerged from a narrow street to a hillside across from the Coliseum. I only had a moment to admire it before I was chased under a café awning by a downpour. I settled in to drink a cappuccino while I waited for conditions to improve. As the morning wore on, the runners were replaced by tourists with brightly colored umbrellas. From my vantage point, I watched them drift past the Coliseum like flowers floating down a stream, and I almost felt dizzy imagining all the different people that have flowed down that same street in the shadow of that massive stone structure for the past two thousand years.
Eventually the rain slackened, and I took a different route back toward the center of the city. Tourist attractions are free in Rome on the first Sunday of the month, so I stopped in to explore two churches and an art museum before I paused once more at a café for my second cappuccino and some heavenly tiramisu (when in Rome and all that). I wrote in my journal while I left my phone to charge. An hour passed, maybe more. I had halfway resolved to marry the dashing Italian waiter and stay forever before I finally convinced myself to strike out in the rain once more.
I made it as far as Termini station, where I found a wonderful bookstore. Three stories high and with books in half a dozen languages, it was possibly the best part of Rome I’d seen so far. I bought a Yann Martel book and Machiavelli’s The Prince because what self-respecting International Relations major doesn’t buy Machiavelli when in Italy? I also bought a lightweight journal with an Italian phrase I didn’t understand, but luckily a later Google search reassured me it was nothing embarrassing (“Don’t Forget That…”).
After a tasty lasagna lunch at the hostel’s restaurant during which I chatted with a friendly South African traveler, I relaxed and read my new book until I regained enough energy for a final foray into the drizzle. I started with Museum of Roman History (free, thank you Sunday!) and another stunning church. Then I found myself on a fancy shopping street way above my budget, so the only thing I bought there was gelato. Then I found another huge monument, the Altare di Patria. I climbed the stairs to its summit and had a great view of the city and the Roman forum as the sun was setting. Weary now, I walked downhill from the forum back to the Coliseum and took the metro back to Termini. After cleaning up from several miles of walking, I took myself on a date to the restaurant across the street. It felt silly and fun and lonely in equal measure to drink white wine and eat ravioli, just me at my table with a book.
It was a great, quiet day of solo travel. I saw a lot and ate a lot and had plenty of time for reflection, which is an important part of traveling for me. But I was beginning to feel the weight of the isolation that can accompany being alone in a foreign city. Luckily, the next morning, I would be meeting up with my parents, so I returned to my hostel to rest up for the following day.
[to be continued]